Friday, April 21, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Alone


It’s difficult to express how isolated Lansdowne House was a half century ago.
Even today the village is one of the remotest
in one of Canada’s least known and least visited regions.

There are a number of names and boundaries for the ecosystem the community exists in,
but there is no disagreement over the fact that it is located in a vast wetland
of stunted forest, muskeg, bog, and fen,
crossed by slow-moving rivers and dotted with countless lakes.



Flying Over the Albany River (Right)
Northern Ontario, Canada, 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Whenever I fly over the area, I am struck by how wet it is, 
for it appears to be more water than land.
I am also struck by how empty it is,
for it is rare to spot any sign of human activity.

To get to Lansdowne House today, fly you must,
because there is no permanent road into the tiny community,
and the region is almost impossible to travel over
unless it is frozen and the winters roads are passable.


Trucks Crossing the Albany River on a Winter Road
Northern Ontario, Canada, 2004
The edge of the road is marked by small trees.
Heavy vehicles must maintain wide spacing and slow speeds.


Lansdowne House’s isolation today is a far cry
from its isolation in the winter of 60-61.
Now the community is connected year round
to the Outside with an all-weather airport
and internet and telephone services.

It no longer has to rely on the telegraph or short wave radio,
and it is no longer cut-off from the Outside during freeze-up and break-up.

The Ojibwa have modern housing and electricity and motor vehicles.
Yes, cars and trucks!
(To see a photo:  Click Here)

Whenever I look at a map of the new Lansdowne House’s tiny streets and its one road
snaking down to the tip of the peninsula where it once stood fifty years ago,
I’m reminded of living on Long Island off the tip of Digby Neck.

Whenever the ferry service across Petit Passage shut down,
there was nowhere to go except up and down the length of the island,
back and forth in a car on the main road.

In Lansdowne House there is nowhere to go
except up and down the length of the peninsula,
back and forth in a car on the only road.



Old Lansdowne House (Upper Right)
New Lansdowne House or Neskantaga (Middle Left)
Lansdowne House All-Weather Airport (Middle)
Map Data:  Google


A year after I left Lansdowne House, in the summer of 1962,
I tried to express my feelings about the isolation I had experienced in the village.
I wrote (rather floridly):

“Winter in the Northland is bright, blue, brassy, and barren.
The naked birch and scraggily fir people the rocky shores
and march across the bleak horizon.

Thousands of tiny lakes, scarring the land,
lie locked in the frozen grip of winter.  

Occasionally a hungry pack of fierce wolves can be seen roaming the empty wastes.
More frequently smoke from a tiny Indian settlement of cabins,
a church, and a Hudson’s Bay post floats lazily up into the still cold air.

A silence hangs over all, broken only by the biting buzz of a lone power saw,
the ring of an ax, or the protesting squeak of sleigh runners
hauled over the snow by huskies.

The Northland is silent, lonely, barren, and deadly.
Underneath her apparent peacefulness and lonely beauty danger lurks.
Her watchfulness never ceases.  She waits, and waits, and waits
for the unwary or careless intruder who dares to cross over her borders.

The more you love the Northland, the more you respect and fear her.
The life that is there pulses with a vital rawness.
There is no in between; you must love the North fiercely
with all that is in you or hate her just as passionately.”



Locked in the Frozen Grip of Winter
Peawanuck, Weenusk First Nation, Northern Ontario



Once I wandered off by myself
along the shore of the peninsula between the ice and the bush.
I stopped and looked across the frozen surface of Lake Attawapiskat
to the treed horizon and realized that no one,
not single person in the world, knew where I was.
I was truly alone.

Looking at the surrounding wilderness I thought,
“Maybe no other human has ever crossed this spot."
I wondered at the rawness of the land and at the absolute silence.  

In the bitter subzero cold, the air seemed frozen, crystalline.
I felt I could shatter it with a tap of a finger,
and the shards would collapse soundlessly into the snow.

The profound peace I felt at first slowly changed into uneasiness
as I glanced at the scraggily black spruce at my back.
I thought, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is hears it, does it make a sound?
If I fell and cried out and no one heard me, did I make a sound?”

Those numberless stunted and spindly trees
and those sweeping stretches of ice
made me feel small and insignificant,
and then the bone-burrowing cold and the wild solitude
sent me hurrying home to the security of warmth and love and consequence.

I have never felt so alone, and in this crowded and connected world,
I may never feel so isolated again.



Black Spruce, James Bay Area


What I didn’t understand as a young girl
is that the intimidating and dangerous wilderness I experienced
was home to the Ojibwa around me.

They and the nearby Cree had inhabited this region for thousands of years,
surviving on the food, shelter, and medicine the land provided.
They knew and understood their land and were deeply connected to its forests and waters.

When I lived in Lansdowne House over fifty years ago,
the Ojibwa lifestyle of trapping furs to trade for supplies
at the Hudson’s Bay post was disappearing;
and after I left, the people became welfare dependent in less than a decade.

Little development has occurred since then,
and the Ojibwa still depend on the moose, caribou, Canada goose,
and lesser snow goose their land provides.




The Hudson's Bay Post
Clerk Brian Booth and Two Ojibwa Men
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Winter 1960-61
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


The recent discovery of rich chromium deposits in the Ring of Fire 
holds the promise of jobs, economic development, and a waged-based economy
for Lansdowne House and other remote Ojibwa and Cree villages in the area.

But the Ojibwa and Cree love their land
and value their traditional cultures.
They are concerned about the impact
mining and development could have on their land
and about whether or not they can maintain
their cultural identity in the face of massive change.

I remember the silent solitude and wild beauty surrounding Lansdowne House,
and I know that development and change are irreversible.

I worry that this vast and fragile wetland, so rare and precious,
will be broken and fragmented and lost
and that the indigenous people who have lived there for millennia
will not be the ones who prosper from the riches of their land.



My Father Crossing the Peninsula
near Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved







Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved











Notes:
1.  Winter Roads:  In recent years the province of Ontario has invested in building and
     maintaining winter roads to connect Lansdowne House and other remote First Nations
     communities to permanent roads and railway systems, but the roads are passable only
     from mid-January to late-March and only if the weather is wintery enough to provide
     the heavy snow-pack and ice required for the roads.  With rising temperatures and
     unpredictable weather due to climate change, these winter roads are increasingly
     unreliable.  cbc.ca

2.  References:  In writing this post, I referred to Canadian Geographic:  Special North Issue,
     March/April 2017, Vol. 137, Vol. 2:  "Out of Sight" by Jesse Gamble, pages 38-45.
     I also watched, yet again, the Ojibwa documentary "We Love Our Land" filmed in Neskantaga.


For Map Lovers Like Me:


Lansdowne House Lies in the Wilderness
West of James and Hudson Bays





Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga
Hudson Bay Lowlands (green)




Lansdowne House 
Northern Ontario, Canada



Friday, April 14, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Deprivation


Deprivation.  
When I was a girl and I wanted to know what a word meant, I had two choices.
I could ask someone, or I could look the word up in a dictionary.
I learned early on, certainly by grade two,
not to ask my father for the meaning of a word.
His invariable response was, “Look it up in the dictionary.”

We only had one dictionary, a massive Funk and Wagnalls
with over a thousand thin pages filled with small black text and illustrations.
It was heavy, but I never really appreciated how heavy,
until at sixteen, I knocked out my sister Barbie with ours.


A Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary


To look up a word like deprivation was a nuisance for ten-year-old me,
and it usually led to a chain of words like deprive, destitute,
and dispossessed in my search for meaning.

I could intellectually understand a word like deprivation from our dictionary,
but I didn’t grasp the fullness of the word
until I saw deprivation with my own eyes in Lansdowne House.
Reality delivered a gut-punch.


A Remote Winter Landscape
The Father's Island
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


I found it difficult to accept the living conditions of my Ojibwa friends.
My family had it hard.  
We had no electricity, no running water, no functioning toilet,
and we five children shared bunks in one of the four rooms in the forestry house;
but our home was luxurious when compared to the homes of my friends.

They lived in wood and tarpaper shacks.
Few were more than one room hovels
in which twelve and fourteen people crowded together.
Often the only piece of furniture was the wood stove
in the center of the log shack.

I slept in a down-filled Arctic sleeping bag on a bunkbed.
My friends slept on heaps of blankets and furs thrown in the corners of their shacks.

At night my father kept the oil burner going full blast
to drive out the cold of the sub-Arctic night.
My friends slept at 35 and 45 below zero in unheated homes.



The Forestry House
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


My mother always served  us hot and nutritious meals.
Granted the potatoes, milk, and sometimes eggs were powdered,
and all our vegetables came out of cans.
Meat was whatever chunk of beef or pork
my father could hack with an axe
out of the buckets of frozen meat he kept on our roof,
out of the reach of the starving Indian dogs;
along with canned Spam and bully beef;
but the food was satisfying and regular.

My Ojibwa friends ate irregularly, mostly scraps of rabbit, moose meat, or fish
supplemented with porridge, canned milk, and lard which they bought at the Bay.
Many were malnourished, some starving.
Without the daily ration of milk and bannock received at school,
more children would have suffered vitamin and mineral deficiency diseases
and worse hunger.



Seen Through Donnie's Eyes
The Forestry House, Lansdowne House, 1961
Drawing by Donalda MacBeath
Text:  Dear Nana, This is a picture of our home.
Note:  Indian Gods (Dogs), Buckets of Meat Hung from the Eaves, 
a Box of Groceries on the Roof,
and the Weather Vane on the Chimney
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


My brother, sisters, and I bathed once a week
in a round galvanized steel tub filled with water
which my mother heated on our gas stove.
My friends rarely bathed at all.

I had a home filled with books, toys, and music.
My friends had nothing.

I made few friends among the Ojibwa girls.
Ojibway society is male-dominated,
and from birth Ojibwa women were trained to remain in the background.
While the Ojibwa girls my age talked and played games with my younger sisters,
my brother and I wrestled and ran with the boys.

Consequently my best friend in Lansdowne House was Simon.
Simon was seventeen years old and in grade four, one of my father’s star pupils.
Simon had passed every grade in school,
but there had only been an Anglican school in the village for the previous four years.


Some of Dad's Boys at School
Simon (right) and George (second from right)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



Normally a First Nations child had to attend school for two or three years
before his teacher could start teaching him any academic subjects.
The language barrier, cultural differences, parental apathy or hostility,
and resentment at being cooped up in the classroom
all interfered with a child’s ability to learn.

As my father used to say, to my current embarrassment,
“It takes about one year just to housebreak an Indian child,
and another to teach him enough basic English to establish communication with him."

As a result many of the Ojibwa and Cree children
in the northern fly-in communities were one to two years behind,
even if there had been schools in their villages longer than they had been in attendance.

Simon had twelve brothers and sisters,
a number of whom were in school with me.
They all lived in a one room shack with no electricity, running water, or sanitary facilities.

Their father was dying from muscular dystrophy
and could no longer work the winter traplines,
so the family subsisted on welfare.

Their only entertainment was the twice weekly movie shown on the Father’s Island,
usually an old Tom Nix western or The Three Stooges.  
Had Simon’s father been able to work, 
Simon wouldn't have been in school.
He’d have been working the winter traplines with his father.


The Three Stooges
L to R: Moe Howard, Curly Howard, Larry Fine



Simon used to talk to me about life.
At seventeen he was curious about the outside world and had a strong desire to learn,
but Sally and Spot on Pleasant Street didn’t help him much.

Simon had been Outside once.
A rabid sled dog had bitten him,
and he had been flown to Sioux Lookout for a series of rabies shots.
The trip was the highlight of his life. 


Coming in for a Landing
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada
Photo by Donald MacBeath, 1961or 1962
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Simon was smart, and he would have liked to further his education,
but he was too old to remain in school much longer.  

There was sickness everywhere:
malnutrition, muscular dystrophy, and tuberculosis.
The homes were crawling with lice,
and the school children were periodically deloused
by the nurse whether they liked it or not.

Some of the Ojibwa, especially females,
suffered from an hereditary disorder that deformed their hip joints.
They hobbled along lurching from side to side,
the women often burdened down with tikinogans, water, or wood.

Childhood diseases such as chicken pox were disastrous
because they could culminate in pneumonia and death.


Mother with Baby in a Tikinogan
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



I observed the living conditions of the Ojibwa around me,
and I gleaned more listening to quiet conversations
among my parents and their friends
over morning coffee or evening bridge;
but my raw, emotional understanding of deprivation 
came from my conversations with Simon.

Deprivation is more than the lack of basic necessities
such as adequate food, shelter, and potable water.
Over time, deprivation damages the psyche and ravages hope.

Simon and his classmates were the generation caught in a drastic transition.
Up until the early 1960s, the Ojibwa in Lansdowne House lived off the land,
following their traditional lifestyle of hunting, trapping, and fishing.  

The  government, in its attempt to prepare aboriginal people
for assimilation into mainstream white Canada, built schools
and encouraged the First Nations to abandon their ancestral lifestyles and settle in villages.
Their cultures were derided and their languages were discouraged.  

The white adults in our village facilitated the transition in various ways
and regarded white culture as superior to the primitive ways of the Indians.
But I, through Simon’s eyes, saw the changes as a loss of hope.

Simon wasn’t learning the skills he needed to follow the traditional livelihood of his people,
and he was not acquiring the education he needed to survive in mainstream society.
He didn’t fit into the old ways, and he didn’t fit into the new.
With no economic opportunity, no jobs, and nowhere to go to get a job,
Simon faced a bleak future.  

I don’t remember the exact words of our long ago, heart-to-heart conversations,
but I still feel his discouragement and hopelessness.

The collapse of the Ojibwa’s traditional lifestyle was sudden,
and before the end of the 1960s, the people in Lansdowne House
spiraled down into welfare dependency.  
By the early 1970s the social fabric of the community had unraveled, 
and the Ojibwa floundered in a quagmire of violence, vandalism, and substance abuse
in a squalid environment of derelict buildings, trash, and oil drums.

Lansdowne House became one of the most violent
and hopeless native communities in northern Ontario.

Source:
When Freedom Is Lost:
The Dark Side of the Relationship Between Government and the Fort Hope Band
by Paul Driben and Robert S. Trudeau, 1983



Rusted Surface of an Oil Drum
Flickr ~ Petur  License


I think of the children I knew, and I wonder what has happened to them.  
I can’t imagine what they must have endured,
for life during the last fifty years in Lansdowne House has been harsh and challenging.  

I think of Daisy and Fannie and Nellie and George,
but most of all I think of Simon.
He was my first real friend, the first one with whom
I exchanged thoughts and feelings of consequence.  

Deprivation was no longer a word, but a reality with the faces of friends.
I began to sense the injustice and the indifference of a random world
where some are born into so much and others into so little.
I wondered why, and I have still not found a satisfactory answer.       


Maureen McRae
Father's Island, Lansdowne House
Roman Catholic Church, Windcharger, and Dad and and Uno's Shack in Background
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved







Till next time ~
Fundy Blue



Beautiful Cove on Long island,
in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved









For Map Lovers Like Me:
Surrounded by Water
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada




Tuesday, April 4, 2017

IWSG: April 5, 2017 ~ Short and Sweet







It's the first Wednesday 
of the month ~ 
the day when members of the
Insecure Writer's Support Group
share their writing struggles
and offer their encouragement
and support to other members.







To visit the IWSG website, click here.

To become a member of the IWSG, click here.

Our wonderful co-hosts who are stepping up to help IWSG founder Alex J. Cavanaugh are:
Christopher D. Votey,  Madeline Mora-Summonte,  Chrys Fey,  and Fundy Blue.  

I hope you have a chance to visit them and thank them for co-hosting.
I'm sure they would appreciate an encouraging comment!

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Every month the IWSG announces a question
that members can answer with advice, insight,
a personal experience, or story in their IWSG posts.

Or, the question can inspire members if they are struggling with something to say.

Remember, the question is optional!!!
This month's IWSG featured question is:

Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms 
of marketing, networking, publicity for your book?
What were the results?

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~


Home again, and it feels wonderful after months
of knocking about from Calgary to Honolulu.


Heading for Home
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


With regard to this month's IWSG question,
I have never participated in the annual A to Z Challenge;
so, of course, I have never taken advantage of it in terms of
marketing, networking, publicity for anything.

I have enough on my plate with my memoir, my blog,
my photography, and my wanderlust.


A Giant Dragon Invades Waikiki
Honolulu Festival Parade, 2017
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


I struggle with schedules every day.
I'd crash and burn before I made it to C.
I know better than to set myself up for that meltdown.

So I'm wishing all those tackling the 2017 A to Z Challenge the best of luck!
I hope that you find this year's challenge full of rewards.



C is for Conch Shell Blower
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


I'm looking forward to the next few weeks at home
where I can write in my familiar study
with all my materials at hand
and internet service I can count on.
I'm a happy gal!


Leis Drape the Duke's Statue at Sunset on Waikiki
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Keeping it short and sweet this time.
Have a happy and productive month of writing in April.


Sky and Water on Waikiki
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



I'm not sure where I'll be this time next month,
but guaranteed I'll be writing.
Take care!


Note:  The photos are from our recent trip to Honolulu.
            I'm having fun with my new Waterlogue App.